BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: discovering Demy.

I WONDER if the Film Society found it difficult to know exactly when to schedule Jacquot de Nantes, a tribute to Jacques Demy. Should it have beeen after all the Demy films so the viewers can pick up on the references and little in-jokes, and have a clearer understanding of Demy’s worldview? Or should it be before the movies, giving an insight into the man, and therefore changing the way a viewer subsequently sees his work. After all, after watching Jacquot de Nantes, it’s easy to see where Demy’s fascination with the everyday, where his love of music or his hard-edged view on romance come from. However, this genre-bending piece does benefit from a little foreknowledge, and viewers with little background in Demy’s films or French New Wave cinema in general, may find it banal or trite. Those who do know a bit of Demy may find it intimate, rich, touching, inspiring and sad.

Jacquot de Nantes focuses almost exclusively on Demy’s childhood, and it’d be fair to say Demy’s childhood was not like Edith Piaf’s or Robert Downey Jr’s. It was a standard childhood, albeit with a tragic World War, and little battles in there. In some respects, it feels like Roald Dahl’s marvellous autobiographies, Boy and Going Solo, where the everyday has a sort of magical, important quality to it, and gives a strong idea of the man. Of course it helps that this tribute to Demy comes from Agnès Varda, one of the great filmmakers of the French New Wave, and incidentally, also Demy’s wife of thirty-three years.

Varda is renowned for also picking the little moments of everyday life (her wonderful The Gleaners and I is about how she admires the discarded, the stuff that people don’t necessarily take notice of), and that approach is evident here. It’d be easy to see this as purely nostalgic, but there is also arguably a sense that Varda is trying to discover the man to whom she was married – as suggested by the opening picture of the naked couple (with the woman looking away), and the final painting of a solitary man. According to critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, Demy was bisexual (affecting his view on relationships, a view which comes through in his films) and was dying of AIDS complications during the making of this film. There is consequently almost a sense of wistfulness and realism throughout, that Varda too wasn’t sure of the man himself. There is the interspersing of a distant-looking older Demy in amongst the recreated childhood scenes, a refusal to engage with Demy’s adulthood. You almost feel her sense of pleasure when film clips correspond to moments in his childhood and the joy in discovering his steadfast determination in becoming a filmmaker. But there is also a resigned quality to Jacquot de Nantes, that she too was discovering this crucial world of Demy, in the process of filmmaking.